Abbas Edalat: As the President of Physicians For Social Responsibility (SPR) you traveled to Iran last March. Could you please explain the purpose of your visit and what you accomplished?
Catherine Thomasson: I feel it is very important to gain more understanding of those with whom we may have conflict. By visiting Iran, I was able to learn about the history of Iran and the impact of the US and other countries on their history as well as experience the culture about which Americans have very little knowledge. To be able to see and converse first hand with Iranians from all walks of life is invaluable. I was able to discuss issues of Iranian perception of their nuclear program, their government and how they perceive America. I developed a much greater understanding of the role of religion in the government and the nature of Shia Islam in the country. I was able to speak with Christians and Jews within the country to gain their perspective of life in Iran. The major purpose of the visit was to convey to Iranians that there were Americans who were interested in engaging in a dialogue and to bring back a first hand account to the United States to influence policy makers and educate the public about the importance of dialogue and diplomacy to overcome our differences.
Abbas Edalat: Several Western governments, notably the US and the UK, were complicit in providing Saddam Hussein with chemicals and the know-how for the manufacture of chemical weapons which were used against the Kurds in Halabja and against the Iranian troops and civilians almost throughout Saddam's eight year war against Iran. Is PSR active in raising awareness in the US public about the role of the US companies and government in the provision and use of these weapons of mass destruction?
Catherine Thomasson: In public talks about Iran, I make sure that the audience has heard about the chemical weapons used against Iranians and Iraqis by Saddam Hussein and that there was active suppression of that information by the UN and the west. It is known that the US and several European companies sold components of these weapons to Iraq.
Abbas Edalat: What joint projects are you planning with the Society for the Protection of the Victims of Chemical Weapons in Iran?
Catherine Thomasson: Physicians for Social Responsibility and Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) are working together to bring two physicians and two chemical weapons victims to the United States to tour in four cities in January (Washington, DC, New York City, Boston and Los Angeles). They will address the issue of chemical weapons use and persistent effects on Iranians and will hold a joint exhibition on the health effects of war, advocating for direct diplomacy between our countries.
Abbas Edalat: Given the catastrophe that the US led invasion of Iraq has brought upon the people of this country, what do you think the human consequence of a military attack on Iran and a new war in the Middle East would be?
Catherine Thomasson: The catastrophe in Iraq is nearly immeasurable. Unleashing war has far flung and extensive consequences. Attached is a document outlining the public health effects of the war in Iraq. The human impact of an attack on Iran is likewise difficult to predict. However, even targeting only 3 of the over 23 sites of the Iranian nuclear program will cause untold damage and death. The chemical center near Isfahan employs over 3000 workers. There are 2 nearby villages and it lies 4 miles from the third largest city in Iran with 1.5 million people. Bombing this facility will release fluorine gas which is toxic and deadly causing burns, lung damage and asphyxiation. It may cause fires and combustion of surrounding areas. The chemical factory has stores of uranium which has toxicity as a heavy metal but also intrinsic radioactive effects. This attack would overwhelm the five hospitals in Isfahan. There is also grave concern about the potential use of a nuclear weapon against the underground facility near Natanz. This would kill up to 40,000 from direct radioactive effects and leave persistent radioactive exposure resulting in later cancer deaths, birth defects and miscarriages.
Abbas Edalat: What consequences, do you think, another US pre-emptive war in the Middle East would bear for the American people?
Catherine Thomasson: I believe that a military action against Iran will result in a worldwide depression due to the rise in the cost of oil. 20% of oil travels through the straits of Hormuz and I feel that Iran has more than enough military power to significantly impact that traffic. Nearly all industry and endeavors in the western world and much in the entire world is totally dependent on oil. From transport of food, to its production to pumping of water we depend on oil. The world consumes immediately nearly all the oil currently produced with the US using 25%. Rising food prices along with all commodities will gravely impact those who are most vulnerable, the poor. Many Americans falsely think that just an air strike against Iran will not cause American casualties, but the safety of all the troops and mercenaries in Iraq will suddenly be much more vulnerable as they will be truly perceived as aggressors and not as providing security.
Abbas Edalat: The PSR put an advert against any military attack on Iran in the Congressional Quarterly, earlier in the year, which was sponsored by several organizations, in particular by CASMII, and has reappeared again in Washington Post with Moveon.org’s sponsorship Has the advert, to your knowledge, had any impact in Capitol Hill among lawmakers and the US administration?
Catherine Thomasson: I believe the ad has raised awareness of the concern about the potential for the US administration to instigate an attack against Iran, but I still don’t feel that Congressional leaders have the necessary level of worry that this administration will unleash a military action against Iran. The public is definitely against any further military incursions in the Middle East, but our leaders are not listening.
Abbas Edalat: There have been numerous reports from credible intelligence sources and prominent investigative journalists in the past few weeks, that the Bush administration realizing that it can no longer use the nuclear card against Iran is now using unsubstantiated allegations about Iran's interference in Iraq as a pretext to launch military strikes against Iran.
The US Congress has been brought on board by passing bills which accuse Iran of interference in Iraq and complicity in killing American soldiers and authorizes the military to take all action necessary to combat Iran or its proxies in Iraq. A Bill has also been passed on 25th September which urges the State Department to designate Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a "foreign terrorist organization". President Bush said in a speech on 28th August that he has authorized the US military to "confront Tehran's murderous activities".
Bearing in mind the horrific consequences that you have described, what can PSR do to avert yet another pre-emptive war by the US, this time against Iran?
Catherine Thomasson: We at PSR along with all Americans against the war in Iraq need to quadruple our efforts to reach media, Congressional leaders and religious leaders to call for honesty in reporting, to demand substantiation of claims and to call for dialogue with Iran. War or military action will not work to achieve any goals with Iran. Our military leaders are against it, the Iraq Study Group calls for dialogue and even the Heritage Foundation states there are no military solutions. I urge all readers to call their congressional leaders to hold them personally responsible for calling for diplomatic efforts and indeed to heed to invitation of many parliamentarians in Iran to visit and dialogue with Iran directly.
Abbas Edalat: The Iraqi-American community remained mostly passive and even complacent in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. This, undoubtedly helped the Bush administration in preparing the US public to support its illegal invasion. What message do you have for the American-Iranian community and in particular the tens of thousands of American-Iranian professionals, academics and medial doctors? What course of action if any do you think they should take?
Catherine Thomasson: I urge all to join with PSR and any other organizations to plan meetings with their local editorial boards to educate them on the misleading reports and the true nature of the situation in Iran. Iranian-Americans lend credible expertise on Iran. They are welcome to utilize the resources on the PSR website including our information on the true level of the Iranian nuclear program to counter the misleading reports by the administration which demonize Iran and make it easier for our misguided administration from continuing to consider military action.
War is not the Answer monograph, www.psr.org
Also download the statement of PSR position against military action against Iran.
Sign up for alerts in the American media at http://irannuclearwatch.blogspot.com